SA Cycling History: Robert Hunter Wins Tour de France Stage
19 July 2007 – the day Robert Hunter destroyed our voiceboxes. Where were you when a South African won a Tour de France stage for the first time?
The Touchline Media ‘pause area’ had been packed every afternoon, as Robert Hunter led the way in his Team Barloworld’s first tackling of the Tour de France. For the Bicycling crew, it was couch time thinly veiled as work, but after a few days, and in particular, after Mauricio Soler’s stage win for the team two days before, the Runners World, finance and management departments had started helping us with our research.
The 11th stage covered 182 km between Marseille and Montpellier. Hunter had come close to tasting victory already, with 4th in Stage 1; 5th in Stage 2; 2nd in Stage 4; and 8th in Stage 6, and was focussing more on his second place in the points competition when the peloton rolled into Montpellier. A crash in the final kilometers nearly scuppered his chances of staying in touch with Tom Boonen in that classification, but with the chaos avoided, those that had not made the pause area soon did as the volume rose with every powerful pedal stroke as Hunter hit the front early and eventually held off Maurilio Fischer and Fabian Cancellara for a famous victory.
The 2007 Tour was Barloworld’s most successful, with Soler standing on the final podium in Paris to accept the Polka Dot Jersey as the best climber, Hunter finishing second to Boonen in the Green Jersey race (but ahead of 7-time champion Erik Zabel). Soler finished 11th, 16 minutes behind Alberto Contador, and second in the Young Rider classification, behind Contador.
In our favourite classification of all, the Lanterne Rouge that denotes the last-placed rider in the general classification, one Geraint Thomas almost made the grade; had he lost just six more minutes somewhere he would have trumped Wim Vansevenant and quite possibly been the first rider to finish both last and first in the biggest bike race in the world.